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Our story, Part II: Michigan's new "DEW" line

Rather than early warning of a nuclear strike, a package of bills now before the Michigan Senate aim to give early warning of a school district in financial distress - a "deficit early warning" system, if you will. But if our lawmakers truly want an early warning, they should simply ask the parents, teachers and staff of our schools what they have been forced to do by Michigan's persistent failure to invest in public education.

These bills escalate the penalties for districts in financial difficulty - and layer on reporting requirements that seem primarily aimed at placing blame on the locals - while completely failing to acknowledge that districts might be in distress because of the actions of the Legislature. The bill package continues the neat shift of blame: the Legislature and Governor make the decisions about school funding, but the responsibility for cutting programs and opportunities available to our children is left for local school boards to shoulder.

At base, there are two competing stories about what is happening to our schools, and one of them is driving these bills forward.

Our story, Part I: What really happened to school funding?

The election's over - can we talk reality now?

For a while, it was gratifying that school funding issues took center stage in the recent election for Michigan's governor. Unfortunately, the amount of spin and, well, dishonesty, left the situation more confusing than before. Now that the election is over, our choices about school funding need to be based on facts, not confusion.

Here are three basic facts that everyone needs to understand. The evidence for them is indisputable:

  • Starting with the 2012 fiscal year, the Governor and Legislature together took away roughly $1 billion that would normally have gone to K-12 education.
  • Schools took a major cut that first year, but they didn't have to: the tax cuts that year made the school cuts necessary.
  • The slow growth in school funding since that first year had nothing to do with the Governor or Legislature or any decisions they made. It was all automatic.

"Come again?" you might say. That's not what we were hearing from all the campaign commercials. But it's the reality we need to come to terms with. So let's go over it in a little more detail. (Go to article >>>)

It's Count Day: know where your school funding is going?

Just a few days ago, a group of Democratic state lawmakers announced that they would introduce legislation to put a hold on the creation of new charter schools until the state developed a better system to oversee their finances. The draft bill, of course, was a reaction to the stunning investigative work by the Detroit Free Press in their June expose on the questionable financial dealings of private, for-profit charter schools in Michigan. (If you haven't read it, you really should.)

Now, as the minority party in both houses of the legislature, there is essentially zero chance that this Democratic bill would be passed as-is. It's an election year, when you tend to see a lot of this kind of thing. But they were also trying to make a point. Part of that point is to say that the people of Michigan want to make sure that public funds which are intended to educate our children are not siphoned off to line some private contractor's pockets.

Departments: 

Thoughts about Ferguson, Mo.

[I drafted the message below for Parents Across America, the national parent advocacy group of which MIPFS is a state affiliate. We thought it would also be appropriate to publish it here, as a reminder of why strong community-governed public schools are so important.]

As we think of the tragic death at police hands of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., our first reaction must be as parents: sorrow and anger. Sorrow because a promising life has been cut so cruelly short, and anger because his death was both unnecessary and sickeningly predictable.

Watching from outside, however, we have also seen in Ferguson problems that plague our nation still.

Departments: 

MIPFS Executive Director receives human rights award

PAA Board of Directors Member honored

Steven Norton, executive director of Parents Across America affiliate Michigan Parents for Schools, and member of the PAA Board of Directors, was the 2014 recipient of the David McMahon Human Rights Award given by the Michigan Education Association. The McMahon award is given annually to recognize "individuals or groups outside the MEA which distinguish themselves by courageously accepting the challenge of moral and ethical leadership in the field of human and civil rights."

Senate weighing school takeover bill

After a bruising vote in the House, the Michigan Senate is slated to take up the latest version of HB 4369, the state school takeover bill. Most people, including us, have been calling this the "EAA bill," but that's a misnomer. The latest version of the bill doesn't even mention the Education Achievement Authority by name, though it would allow the EAA to continue operating and even expand.

What the bill does do, however, is to cement in place a state school takeover system originally rushed into law over four years ago in a desperate attempt to win a share of Federal "race to the top" funding. (We didn't get any.) At the time, everyone agreed that the provisions being rushed into law were less than half-baked, and lawmakers promised to re-visit the provisions and replace them with sound policy. Naturally, that never happened.

But the EAA is still an important part of this story, mainly because of the lessons it - and other examples of state intervention - should have taught us about what happens under state takeover. What are some of those lessons?

Now for another episode of "Lansing Knows Best!"

House Bill 4369 (the "EAA expansion bill") passed the state House of Representatives late last Thursday. After close to two hours of maneuvering and floor speeches, it passed by the thinnest of margins: 56-54. The bill now goes back to the Senate either for its approval or for more changes.

Why is this legislation so important - and so dangerous? This bill is not just about the EAA - in fact, the EAA is not even mentioned by name in the document (though it does allow the EAA to continue and expand). Its impact would be much more sweeping if it becomes law.

This legislation would enshrine state takeover as the best and (nearly) only way to "help" students in struggling schools. On top of that, the bill opens the door for many different organizations to run such schools on behalf of the state - they might be like the EAA (because that has gone so well), or they might be for-profit charter management companies. Both the Governor and the state Superintendent have said they want more "options" for state takeover. That should make us all feel much better.

Who is watching the school "reformers"?

It's hard to talk about education these days without hearing the word "accountability" in nearly every sentence. Teachers should be accountable, administrators should be accountable, and school officials should be accountable. There is no question that the education of our children is a top priority and, yes, the people doing that job should be accountable.

Strange, then, that our state government's one and only strategy to address persistently struggling schools and districts would abandon accountability entirely. Children are already paying the price.

Departments: 

A better way to help schools improve

Proposed legislation offers parent proposal to assist struggling schools

For years, the tag line of our messages to school advocates has been: "together, we can make a difference." Well, today is proof that together we have made a difference.

Legislation introduced today in the Michigan House of Representatives would enact the "Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools," a policy recommendation developed by MIPFS after extensive consultations with parent group leaders, educators, policy experts, and advocates like you.

"One rogue school board member"

This is how a legislator described a close colleague and dear friend of mine: "one rogue school board member." The school board member in question is Elizabeth Welch Lykins, trustee of the East Grand Rapids Public Schools, committed proponent of strong public education, and member of the MIPFS board of directors. Though she was not singled out by name, every person knew who was being described.

"One rogue school board member." The phrase itself is designed to belittle and marginalize. But it fails in that attempt, because it is so disconnected from the truth.

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Current legislation

Coming events

  • House Sch Aid Approps: Sch Aid, MDE budgets
    28 March 2017 - 10:30am
    Room 352, House Appropriations, State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
    click for more information

  • Senate Education: Modify schl start date
    28 March 2017 - 12:00pm
    Room 1300, Binsfeld Building, 201 Townsend Street, Lansing, MI 48933
    click for more information

  • Senate Sch Aid Approps: Sch Aid, MDE budgets
    29 March 2017 - 8:30am
    Harry T. Gast Appropriations Room, 3rd Floor, Capitol Building, 100 S. Capitol Avenue, Lansing, MI 48933
    click for more information

In the news

MIPFS is working with parent group 482Forward, ACLU Michigan, and many school groups to ensure public funding goes to public schools.


MIPFS also contributed considerable background to this article, raising serious questions about the strategy of closing schools.


MIPFS presents to the State Board of Education


Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


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